What does success mean to YOU?

Everyone of us seeks success. We all want to feel successful. It’s the one thing that drives us everyday. However it’s interesting that the definition of success varies from person to person. To some, success is being fit and healthy and nothing more. To others, it means positively impacting lives of others. To most in the business world, success may mean growing their careers to a level where they are satisfied both in terms of monetary terms and also the nature of work and position held. And to a parent, success may mean that their kids grow up to become people with good moral character and have the ability to build a strong future for themselves.

Clearly, there doesn’t appear to be single definition of success. It is a rather subjective term. Success guru Jim Rohn suggests that we ask ourselves the following three questions to determine what success means to us and then use the answers as our north-star for achieving success:

  • What makes life valuable?
  • What makes life worthwhile?
  • What makes life work well in all areas?

Noted Leadership Guru John C. Maxwell defines success as follows:

Success is…Knowing your purpose in life, Growing to reach your maximum potential, and Sowing seeds that benefit others.- John. C.Maxwell

John’s viewpoint is that most people suffer from “destination disease” i.e they consider success as a well defined destination in their mind. When they arrive at this destination, they can consider themselves successful. For many this destination may be one or more of the following: wealth, position, power or freedom. However, John’s view of success is that “Success is a journey not a destination”. Based on the principle that success is growing to reach your maximum potential and sow seeds that benefit others- there is no end point for success, as one has unlimited potential and should always seek to work towards adding value to others. John Maxwell’s intentional living mindset – Know your why and live your why is what he believes will set you on the path for success. He believes that each individual is unique and must seek to find that intersection of what sets their soul on fire, what they are naturally great at and what makes them cry (empathy). Success can be achieved when you know your purpose, and are focused on continuous improvement to reach your potential while simultaneously seeking to help others.

Success coach Tony Robbins believes emotions are the most important factor that determine success.

“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.- Tony Robbins”

Here are his three secrets for success:

Secret #1: Don’t re-invent the wheel: Emulate others who have achieved the level of success you desire

Secret #2: Ask someone who can help you- Reach out someone else who has already “figured it out”. This could be a mentor, friend, colleague or an industry expert who you aspire to become.

Secret #3: Success leaves clues. People who succeed consistently are not lucky; they have figured out a “magic formula” that they apply over and over again. Determine the best possible way to learn their “magic formula” and apply it in your own life.

Regardless of what your definition of success is, you must develop the right attitude to achieve success. The right attitude in my opinion is to set big goals, take action, not make excuses, be grateful and help others.

A great attitude is not the result of success; Success is a result of great attitude- Earl Nightingale.

Nobody finishes well by accident. Success requires massive action and a strong commitment to achieve your goals. If you seek success, you must be intentional in your pursuit of reaching new heights and living your best story.

Mission Accomplished-Leadership Lessons from a Space Shuttle Commander

Would you trust your team with your life? Will your team trust YOU with theirs? These are the environments in which Space shuttle crew operate. Space Shuttle ventures rely on the mutual trust between the crew members and the trust in their leader: the space shuttle commander. Space shuttle ventures are extremely risky. The crew aren’t sure if they will even see their families ever again. Why would someone willingly take such huge risks? They aren’t doing this for themselves. They are aligned to a mission that’s much bigger than themselves. And the job of aligning the crew with the mission at hand rests on the space shuttle commander and the country’s leadership. For e.g. President John F. Kennedy’s address to the nation and the crew of Apollo 11 helped them align to a mission bigger than themselves – “One of National Pride” to ensure victory in Space over the soviets. President Kennedy did a spectacular job as a leader- He recognized the talent that was resident within his country and realized that it was just a matter of “Marshalling the national resources required”. He urged congress to “commit” to a goal and specified a clear timeline to achieve the goal- of landing a man on the moon within a decade.

Earlier this year i had the honor of meeting Colonel Rick Searfoss, Commander- Space Shuttle- Colombia, and a Pilot on two space trips aboard Space Shuttle Colombia and Atlantis. He was commander of the most complex space mission ever. His leadership led to one of NASA’s most successful space missions ever: sterling results with a $500 million dollar project on a $2 billion national asset. He is currently a speaker on a mission : “To share the leadership, execution excellence, teamwork, and innovation lessons of human space flight to empower organizations to achieve out-of-this-world results!” . He is also the author of “Lift Off” a book about how an astronaut commander learnt to lead the way and focuses on the concept of “Purposeful Leadership”.

In his book, Rick introduces 12 leadership principles aligned around “4Ps” based on his experience @ NASA.

Here’s a brief summary for each of these principles categorized into the 4 Ps: (Excerpt from Rick Searson’s Synoposis of his book)

Purpose- The Why – The Foundation

Purposeful Execution Principle 12: Choose the Hard: Actively seeking and embracing difficult challenges gives powerful initial direction, informs the vision, and encourages the team.

Purposeful Execution Principle 11: Make the mission matter: A meaningful cause in service to others inspires team members to deeply commit to mission accomplishment.

People – The Who: Results don’t happen automatically

Purposeful Execution Principle 10: Work the Matrix: Constant care of the matrix of both internal and external relationships amplifies team unity and leverages effective collaboration.

Purposeful Execution Principle 9: Build Total Trust: More than any single factor, a high-trust culture enables capturing people’s best efforts and contributions to meet the most challenging commitments.

Perspective: The How

Purposeful Execution Principle 8: Balance the orbit: A positive yet reality-grounded perspective sets the stage for highest team member engagement, productivity, and results.

Purposeful Execution Principle 7: Tether to Principles: Adherence to values-based principles contains drift and systematically keeps execution on track during preparation, action, and follow-through.

Program: The What, Where and When

Purposeful Execution Principle 6: Create Objective-Centric Operations: Achieving correctly defined, well developed, and suitably emphasized objectives empowers the team to fulfill the mission, turning vision into reality.

Purposeful Execution Principle 5: Pace it Perfectly: Pushing ahead diligently with a long-range view, opportunities orientation, and optimal pace fosters the responsiveness to stay ahead of problems and competitors

Purposeful Execution Principle 4:Prepare Diligently and Constantly: Deep preparation and guarding against complacency in planning, training, and briefing accelerate the team into effective action.

Purposeful Execution Principle 3: Drive awareness and learning: Peak productivity requires superb knowledge and competence, strong situational awareness, and a relentless drive to improve.

Purposeful Execution Principle 2: Persist to prevail: Leading all the way to successful completion requires tenacious persistence, acting in alignment with objectives, wisely mitigating risks, and patiently adjusting operations.

Purposeful Execution Principle 1: Propel Accountability for Results: Execution excellence requires dedicated, realtime, and total accountability, principled adaptability, and a disciplined debriefing mindset. 

Rick’s phenomenal experience as a Space shuttle commander offers incredible insights into leadership, execution, crisis management and life. I would highly recommend his book: Liftoff: An Astronaut Commander’s Countdown For Purpose Powered Leadership

How stretching helps your career

stretch

Did you know stretching can give you tremendous boosts of energy? Stretching helps loosen tight muscles and improves blood circulation. It can also help you develop a more optimistic outlook in life through the release of endorphins. It turns out stretching is not just great for your physical health but also for your career. Reaching out to achieve goals beyond your comfort zone is the stepping stone for achieving significant success. Big goals bring greater rewards but involve more risk and therefore most individuals prefer to “stay put” and do not make any significant changes.

Reaching your potential requires getting comfortable with constantly being “uncomfortable”. There is no limit to how much you can improve yourself. Successful individuals are constantly pushing their limits.

“Only a mediocre person is always at his best”- W. Somerset Maugham

The status quo can be quite a delightful place to many individuals. The “Joy” of the familiar is hard to give up. However, settling into your comfort zone has long-term implications the most noteworthy being its impact on your ability to grow as an individual. The most common example of this is when we try to lose weight. Knowing what it takes to lose weight- long hours in the gym and sacrificing your favorite food , most people will take the easier way out and identify an excuse that justifies inaction. Sometimes it takes a special trainer who has the ability to motivate you to become a better version of yourself by painting a picture of what a better you could look like and what that means to your life. Noted leadership and personal growth guru John Maxwell suggests in “The Law of the Rubber Band” that our personal growth journeys must be like a stretched rubber band – where there is tension required to hold it to its full length.

Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you & where you could be- John.C. Maxwell.

It’s important to keep up the momentum/effort (Tension) required to help you reach your peak potential. Even if you determine that you have reached a certain level of success you sought out a few years ago, you must continue to push harder as your potential is really unlimited. Growth requires tremendous courage and determination. It also requires an open mind to develop yourself to become a new you by acknowledging your areas of improvement and focusing on “strengthening” your strengths.

In the corporate world, it is common to have “Stretch” goals and “Commit” goals. This applies to both individuals and companies. Stretch goals are viewed as “high risk for failure” and “commit” goals typically must be met at any cost. I prefer to not categorize goals as stretch vs commit as this tends to cause undesired effects such as “coasting” when the commit goals are met. Instead, when I coach clients at my Leadership and Growth coaching practice: SuccessSimba, I recommend that the team set goals at 10X levels. This is a principle borrowed from Grant Cardone’s The 10X Rule, and I describe this principle in my Post- How to achieve #10X results in your life and career. To meet the goals, we have to up the ante and take massive action to achieve the goals. This approach ensures that the individuals and the business are firing on all cylinders and are constantly propelling themselves to their full potential. This also tends to open up your mind to think bigger and may change your approach/direction all together.

Another philosophy to maximize potential is the concept of “BHAG” or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The BHAG concept was introduced by Jim Collins in his book “Good To Great” and it is a clear and compelling goal that unifies people towards a common mission that is bigger than themselves. This is the philosophy that great companies such as Boeing and GE use to achieve bold missions. A BHAG is energizing and creates the momentum necessary to propel forward towards progress.

Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success. -David Schwartz (Author- The Magic of Thinking Big).

Are you creating the right VIBE as a startup leader?

How do startups succeed? If you ask around, you may get different answers. Some may say that it’s the idea that matters, others may consider the team critical to success. Derek Lidow, Professor at Princeton University and former Founder/CEO of iSuppli (Sold to IHS for $100M) states in his bestselling book “Startup Leadership” that the founders leadership abilities are the key to success. He highlights a really valid view point: Startup leadership is perhaps one of the most challenging forms of leadership. The founder/s typically start alone and need to build a team that believe in you and your vision. Derek states that less than 10 % startups create significant value and reach a stage where they are self-sustaining and such firms are typically led by “Entrepreneurial Leaders”. Such leaders are rare and account for less than one in fifty. Derek believes that many founders struggle with leadership at some point in their startup career and many even find themselves forced out by investors as they are unable to handle the pressures and challenges of handling organizational dynamics of a startup. In fact, the more successful your startup, the greater the chances that you will be replaced as the leader/CEO.

It’s not the idea that innovates, its the leader that innovates- Derek Lidow

The chasm between the early stage of a startup and the later stage where a startup is able to sustain on its own is fraught with several casualties. Startups that have a great start may eventually falter in this zone where they are attempting to scale from being a founder-led business with a few paying customers to a founder-less self-sustaining organization that is capable of rapid innovation and market share capture. Derek suggests that there is value in distinguishing between an “Entrepreneur” and an “Entrepreneurial Leader”. He describes the entrepreneurial leaders as having specific characteristics, none of which are truly extraordinary meaning they can be acquired through appropriate coaching and training.

The skill sets that are a must have for an entrepreneurial leader include :

Self-awareness: A basic understanding of your motivations, desires and fears. To lead others, you must first lead yourself by developing a deep awareness of your strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. This drives your actions.

Relationship Building: Building strong relationships with others is key and the existence of a “Shared objective” is the foundation of relationships. Three types of relationships must be nurtured in the context of a shared objective: cooperative – you agree on the common objectives , competitive- you may disagree on “how to accomplish” the common objective and “Retreat” you may decide to let the other individual/entity take the lead because you trust their approach/insight better than your own. Leveraging a good mix of these three approaches will help startup founders succeed as an entrepreneurial leader.

Motivation: How do you motivate others to want to help you be successful? As a startup matures, it brings with it multiple challenges. You may need to re-think who you have on your team and let go of those who helped you launch the business. You may have to struggle to make payroll or you may lose customers. During such a challenging growth phase of the business, looking within to realize your intrinsic motivation and understanding that of others in your company will be critical. You cannot win alone, and you cannot win if you and your team are weak enough to throw in the towel at the slightest sign of hardship.

Leading Change: How to make people willingly change what people have been doing successfully. Every startup needs to learn to Pivot. However, “Pivot” needs to be an option not just during the product-market fit stage but all through the life of the startup. Startups themselves can be disrupted if they are not in tune with the market reality. However, change is hard and a founder leader must be effective in aligning the key leaders in the business on the need for change and leverage their understanding of the motivation factors to drive change across the organization.

Enterprise Basics: All entrepreneurs tend to be optimistic fanatics who are in love with their idea. Entrepreneur leaders must have the basics right: understand concepts such as cash flow, customer acquisition costs, employee retention etc. These metrics are critical to transition into a mature business and deliver meaningful growth in business valuation.

I believe that a founder that can create the right VIBE will be successful in transitioning into an entrepreneurial leader. VIBE comprises the following principles:

  • Vision: Crafting a clear and compelling vision and communicating this to everyone. This will be very beneficial in relationship building and establishing shared objectives.
  • Impact: A startup that is making a positive impact in the world will help everyone in your organization develop that “intrinsic” motivation essential to success in the challenging times of startup growth.
  • Bold experiments: When it’s time to “Pivot”, founders should not be afraid of running bold experiments that will help them change course as required.
  • Education: Training yourself last is the worst mistakes founders make. Part of the self-awareness founders must develop is knowing their own weak spots. Ensuring they are constantly learning and improving their own skill-sets especially in the areas of “Enterprise basics” will be beneficial in the long run.

Building a successful startup takes an enormous effort and with the right approach and coaching founders can ensure success. Derek offers a few tools for founders on his website that you may find useful.

How thoughts control your life

Best-selling author Napoleon Hill of “Think and Grow Rich” has outlined several principles that can help you change the course of your life. For those seeking significant improvements in your life, here are some of his principles and how to apply them:

We are all walking around with a super powerful computer: our mind. Our mind not only controls our body but it also dictates our actions. Our mind has the ability to influence a significant part of our life. While our mind has unlimited compute capacity, the output it produces is directly related to the input it receives. If we are looking to generate powerful outcomes, we must feed our mind with equally powerful inputs. In fact, the term “programming your mind” may not be very far from the truth in that you should indeed be able to condition your mind to produce results you seek. Overcoming limiting beliefs, reading positive materials, listening to powerful speakers, and practicing mind control techniques such as yoga/meditation can have a significant impact on getting a grip on your thoughts.

a)Desire: Success in getting to a destination starts with knowing WHERE you want to go. Clearly define your goals, and why you want to accomplish them. This will help propel you forward. I find it helpful to write goals and share with others which holds you accountable.

b)Faith: Knowing what you want, coupled with knowing YOU deserve what you want and YOU are capable of getting what you deserve. Stay away from negative self-talk and surround yourself with positive affirmations in whatever form that works for you (vision boards, recorded videos of your future accomplishments).

c)Organized Planning: If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Getting to a new level in your life requires careful planning. Treat your life like a “Project” and develop phases, milestones and tasks that you must accomplish along with dates. Don’t forget the deadly “Risks” that you must anticipate before hand and develop a “Mitigation Plan” so you don’t trip on your journey.

d)Persistence: If you fall, that’s expected. Most people will experience failure sometimes multiple times in life. Getting back up on your feet and learning from your mistakes is what will set you apart. This is perhaps the most challenging mind control that you will need to achieve. Some techniques I find helpful in avoiding “Throwing in my towel” when pursuing big goals, is ensuring i don’t have any other alternative. For e.g going for a run outdoors forces me to keep going and avoid hitting on the tempting “Stop” red button on the treadmill.

e) Power of the Mastermind: This is my personal favorite in terms of the TGR principles.The “Master Mind” may be defined as: “Coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.” A group of batteries will generate more energy than a single battery. The benefits of collaborating with other like minded or even others with divergent thinking can significantly boost your own thinking and ability to succeed. I highly recommend getting together with others with similar goals on a regular basis and brainstorm your approach and challenges.

“If you’re always at the head of the class, then you’re in the wrong class.”

— John C. Maxwell

Do you make the RIGHT choices as a leader?

“Life is a matter of choices and every choice makes you”- John C. Maxwell. Everyone of us face difficult choices daily. Should you eat that delicious desert you have been eyeing or should you take that tempting job offer. As leaders, we are constantly faced with challenging situations- Should we pursue a particularly attractive market opportunity or shut down a product line that’s performing poorly? As #1 leadership guru John C. Maxwell rightly said- our choices make us who we are and who we can become. Shouldn’t everyone simply make the RIGHT choices then? Why do we all struggle with making good choices?

A key factor that influences our choices is perhaps based on how our brain is wired. Noted Nobel prize winner Prof. Daniel Kahneman author of acclaimed book – “Thinking Fast and Slow” describes the concept of “System 1” and “System 2” thinking and it’s influence on our decisions. Prof. Kahneman is also considered the “godfather” of the incredible discipline of behavioral economics. “System 1” thinking is the instinctive and emotional thinking that is fast and based on “associative memory”. Simple day to day decisions like what type of “burger” or “drink” you order are based on “System 1” thinking. “System 2” thinking is slower, conscious and more rational thinking and is often what you would expect for more important decisions like buying a car or which company to work for. “System1” thinking is based on “limited evidence/information and biases/first impressions” and can often influence “System 2” to return a result that is actually irrational and is “justified” by “system 1”. Another concept is that everyone has two forms: “experiencing self” [System 1] and “remembering self”[System 2]. These two forms of “mental operating systems” are responsible for why sometimes we cannot trust that the decisions we make are in our best interests. The experiencing self is the “you” in the moment that is living through the event, whereas the remembering self is the “you” that lives in the past and bases future decisions on what happened in the past.

Shouldn’t we always make rational choices and exert self-control? System 2 thinking is inherently lazy and it requires more “work” to run, so in reality we are constantly leveraging our “gut thinking” or “System 1” thinking even in scenarios where we should be leveraging “System 2”. A series of experiments by psychologist Roy Baumeister has shown that an effort of self-control is tiring, and therefore when faced with a situation where you need to invoke “system 2” right after it has just been taxed, can actually lead to a surprising outcome, where we may end up making a emotional/intuitive choice that is governed by “System 1” thinking instead. This phenomenon is known as “ego depletion”. The more conscious our decision making, the more likely we will make decisions that will catapult our lives and businesses in the right direction.

So how do we as leaders/executives make RIGHT choices when we are faced with a fork in the road? I offer a framework called (RIGHT) below to help us tackle complex leadership decisions we face as business leaders:

R- React Slowly- Avoid impulsive reactions especially as it comes to decision making involving people on your team. Take a deep breath and think through any biases/prejudices that you may be making unconsciously before reacting and speaking to your team or blurt out something in a meeting you will later regret. Take a “Time-Out” like high-pressure sports teams do. Delay the decision for a day or take a break and listen to music or watch something unrelated like a “comedy” video clip to help your “System 2” brain recoup.

I- Information – Always ensure due diligence, in terms of collecting “evidence” or “relevant” information before making people-centric decisions. Information could be collected directly from the concerned individuals or from others directly aware of the problem.

G-Get Help- Bounce your thoughts/decisions off other executives or a coach to get clarity on your thoughts and ensure you are thinking through the decision and not jumping to conclusions or being influenced by past experiences/biases.

H-Handle Pressure – Be honest to yourself and make decisions that you truly believe are the right decisions. Do not succumb to pressure from external influencers who may also be operating under “system 1” influence.

T- Take Feedback- Once you have made a decision, and communicated this to the concerned individuals, take feedback from them on how they perceive your decision. It is important to close the loop here, to ensure that you are feeding into “System 2” -your “remembering self”.

Hope you find this framework useful to make good choices as a leader in your organization.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter F. Drucker